U Visas for Crime Victims Assisting Law Enforcement: Who Is Eligible

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The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 authorized two new visas: the “U” visa for immigrant victims of serious crimes and the “T” visa for victims of severe human trafficking. These visas were created due to rising public safety concerns, with the idea that foreign victims of crimes in the U.S. should be allowed to remain so as to provide law enforcement officials with information helpful in apprehending and prosecuting criminal offenders.

If you are approved for a U visa, you will be granted legal status in the U.S. for up to four years (which may be extended if "exceptional circumstances" warrant it). Once you have held your U visa for three years, you may be eligible to apply for legal permanent residence (a "green card").

However, it is not enough to simply state that you have been a victim of a serious crime in order to get a U visa. You will need to provide a “certificate of helpfulness” from a qualifying government agency and prove that you suffered mental or physical abuse by a U.S. perpetrator. Additionally, if you are “inadmissible” to the U.S. due to past immigration violations or for other reasons, you will need to apply for a waiver of these grounds. 

This article addresses who will qualify for a U visa and what evidence you will need to prepare for your petition. For detailed instructions on applying, see “Filing an I-918 Petition for a U Visa.” 

U Visa Eligibility Criteria

In order to apply for a U visa using Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, you must meet the following criteria and provide substantial evidence to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

  1. You must have been a victim of a “qualifying criminal activity,” and this crime must have occurred in the United States or violated U.S. law. Indirect and bystander victims are also eligible to apply in certain circumstances. For example, a murder victim obviously cannot benefit from a U visa, but another person who witnessed the murder or a close family member who was impacted by it may have information that is helpful to law enforcement. For more on this, see "Both Direct and Indirect Victims Can Qualify for U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa)."
  2. In the course of this criminal activity, you must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse.
  3. You have useful information about this criminal activity (or if under age 16, your parent, guardian or “next friend” such as a counselor or social worker can provide this information for you).
  4. You (or your parent, guardian, or next friend) have been or will be “helpful” to law enforcement in order to bring the perpetrator of this crime to justice.
  5. You are admissible to the United States or you are applying for a waiver using Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant.

You can apply for a U visa from within the U.S. or abroad at a U.S. consulate. Be sure to consult with an advocate familiar with U visas or an experienced immigration attorney who can help you with your application. Keep reading for more information on what evidence is necessary to prove that you qualify for a U visa.

What Crimes Qualify Its Victims for a U Visa

In a typical U visa case, you will have been the victim of a serious crime that took place in the United States. In some cases, however, the crime might have violated U.S. laws overseas (such as a human trafficking or kidnapping crime). Examples of qualifying crimes are:

  • Violent crimes: murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, robbery, felonious assault (what qualifies as felonious assault can differ, but usually involves the use of a deadly weapon, and can include statutory rape and other offenses), and domestic violence. Stalking was also added to the list of crimes for petitions filed after March 7, 2013.
  • Enslavement crimes: criminal restraint, kidnapping, abduction, being held hostage, forced labor, slavery, human trafficking, indentured or debt servitude, and false imprisonment.
  • Sexual crimes: rape, incest, sexual trafficking, sexual assault and abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, and female genital mutilation.
  • Obstruction of justice crimes: perjury, witness tampering, withholding evidence.
  • Fraud in foreign labor contracting: a later addition to the statute, made in 2014.

The crime need not have been “completed” in order for it to qualify. An attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit one of the above-mentioned crimes is enough. For example, obviously a murder victim wouldn’t be applying for a U visa. But if you are the victim of attempted murder, you may qualify for a U visa.

You Must Prove Substantial Physical or Mental Abuse

It is not enough to merely be victim of a qualifying crime. You must have suffered “substantial” physical injury or mental anguish as a result of this criminal activity and you must provide USCIS with medical records and affidavits to support your claim. In determining whether the injury you suffered was “substantial,” USCIS will consider how severe the injury was, for how long the abuse occurred, and how likely it is to cause you lasting or permanent harm.

You should provide a personal statement detailing the physical or mental harm you suffered, as well as medical records or statements from treating physicians and psychologists, photographs of physical injuries, and affidavits from social workers.

You Must Have Helpful Information to Provide to Law Enforcement

One of the reasons for the authorization of U visas is that many U.S. immigrants do not provide information to law enforcement due to cultural differences, language barriers, and fear of deportation. Due to this reluctance to report, many perpetrators of serious crime have viewed immigrants as an excellent “target.”

In order to further the public safety objectives of these visas, your petition must be certified by a police officer (or other law enforcement official) who will attest that you were a victim of a qualifying crime and you are likely to be helpful to an investigation or prosecution of the crime.

For this reason, you are more likely to get a law enforcement official to cooperate with your U visa application if you are forthcoming in providing information that could lead to the identification, arrest, and conviction of a serious criminal. For more on this, see “What’s Needed for a U Visa Certification of Helpfulness.” 

A Waiver Is Available If You Are Inadmissible

To be eligible for a U visa, you must not be “inadmissible” to the United States. This means that you would not be barred from U.S. entry due to factors such as multiple criminal convictions, immigration violations, certain medical conditions, or any of several other reasons. (For further information, see “Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.”) You need not, however, worry about being inadmissible as a likely public charge (someone who might have to rely on need-based public assistance), which does not apply to U visa applicants as of 2014.

In order to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility, you must submit USCIS Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant. Unlike the I-601 inadmissibility waiver that is required for other nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions, this waiver does not require a showing of “extreme hardship.” Such waiver applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Your Qualifying Family Members May Receive Derivative U Visas

Certain family members may be eligible to become derivative U visa recipients if the principal petitioner’s application is approved. These include your:

  • unmarried children under age 21
  • spouse
  • parents (if principal petitioner is under age 21), and
  • unmarried siblings under 18 years old (if principal petitioner is under age 21).

You can submit Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U Visa Recipient along with your own petition or after your U visa is approved. Any derivative relatives that you include must also be “admissible” to the U.S. (or apply for a waiver) and have good moral character. (The "public charge" ground of inadmissibility doesn't apply to derivative family members, either.)

Timing Counts!

If you think you may be eligible for a U visa based on the above, you should start the application process as soon as possible. If you can provide plenty of details to aid law enforcement, you will improve your chances to receive a certification of helpfulness.

Also, the earlier it is in the criminal investigation and prosecution, the more likely it is that you will be able to convince USCIS that you play a vital role in bringing the criminals involved to justice and should be therefore be allowed to stay in the United States.

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